Responding to rape
Posted on April 24, 2010
I was at a conference on rape last Tuesday and, as is often the case with events like this, it’s taken me a few days to process what I thought about it all.
Well actually no, it hasn’t, ‘cos as my friends could tell you, I had a fair few things to say about it immediately afterwards. But my problem is that sometimes I can have such a visceral reaction to something, I think it’s wiser to mull it over for a while before I write anything about it, just to make sure that my initial “this fucking sucks!” response was justified.
And this time I think it was. So here goes.
The conference was this one – Responding to Rape, at the London South Bank University, and overall, to be fair to both the organisers and the participants, I have to say it was a really interesting day. However, there were a few things that were said during the day that really pissed me off.
For a start, while I think the Met Police’s Sapphire Units are a positive step-forward for the victims of rape and sexual assault, I was really disappointed to hear DCS Caroline Bates, of the Metropolitan Police Rape Response Unit, talking in her presentation about the need to educate young women about their responsibilities in helping to prevent rape. In fact let’s face it, I was more than disappointed, I was fucking angry, to hear someone who I thought might actually get it indulge in victim blaming shite about how girls make themselves vulnerable to rape and sexual assault by drinking too much and so on.
And then there was Dr. Miranda Horvath, from the University of Surrey, who waxed lyrical about the role restorative justice could play in rape and sexual assault cases. Seriously, no. Just fuck that shit. That’s what I thought when she talked about it then and, after a few days of reading up on restorative justice and giving it a bit more thought, that’s still my response now.
Restorative justice isn’t justice, not when it comes to sex crimes anyway: it’s letting men off the hook for the hate crimes they perpetrate against women. As far as I’m concerned the last thing a rape victim needs is to be sat in a room (or to open a letter) and be faced with some whining bastard bleating on about how he didn’t mean it really, and how he really truly understands that what he did was wrong and he’s sorry now, so please forgive him and don’t send him to prison ‘cos it’ll ruin his poor sad shitty fucking life.
And finally, and I’m not going to focus this on any one specific conference participant because this is a theme that runs through all of these events and discussions, I’m fed up with what a colleague dubbed the “medicalisation of coping strategies,” and the inference that often goes with it that any woman who doesn’t report a rape or sexual assault makes that choice because she’s suffering from PTSD or some other trauma induced disorder.
Because do you know what? While I accept that PTSD and so on are perfectly normal and valid responses to rape and sexual assault, so is not reporting to the police: and the two are not necessarily intertwined.
When the rape conviction rate stands at a measly 6% (and yes, I am still using the 6% figure Baroness Stern, for the very same reasons that Vera Baird alludes to here); when women know that they’re unlikely to be believed by the officers handling their case, by the CPS, and by whoever else they may run into within the criminal justice system during the course of the laboriously long process; and when women know that they’re unlikely to ever actually get their day in court, and that they’re even less likely to see justice achieved on their behalf; deciding right from the very get-go that it’s not worth bothering to report rape to the powers that be is an absolutely sane and logical decision to make.
Yes, it would be great if every women who was ever raped or abused felt supported enough to take their case right through the system. Yes, it would be great if whenever a woman was raped there was a man being held accountable somewhere for his crime. But the reality is that the current system doesn’t support women. The reality is that we know the odds are stacked against us in these cases. And the reality is that no amount of PTSD counselling or CBT is going to persuade some of us otherwise.
Don’t get me wrong, I completely support the provision of counselling and whatever else women might need to help them move on in their lives after rape and sexual assault: that’s why I’m such a staunch advocate for Rape Crisis Centres. What I cannot support however is the idea that every woman who chooses not to report is psychologically damaged in some way, and that her conscious choice not to put herself through the wringer when she knows she’s got a 94% chance of getting nowhere anyway, is nothing more than an expression of that damage.
Because it’s not.
Having said all that, I would urge anyone who’s been the victim of rape or sexual assault to please tell someone: it doesn’t have to be the police or anyone in authority.
The Rape Crisis National Freephone Helpline is open from 12-2.30pm & 7-9.30pm every day of the year: you can call them on 0808 802 9999